Most Networks Skip Broadcast Profanity Case, Avoid or Skim Over Critics

Most networks skipped over the story of their own corporate advocacy of broadcast profanity Tuesday night when the Second Circuit Court of Appeals shredded the FCC's broadcast decency regulation. (All the major broadcast networks signed on, with Fox in the lead). NBC's Brian Williams offered 94 words, but erred in claiming "When a curse word has slipped out in the past, the FCC has imposed heavy fines on networks." There were no fines for NBC when Bono said "f-ing brilliant" at the 2004 Golden Globes, nor were their fines for Fox when Cher and Nicole Richie for profanity at (respectively) the 2002 and 2003 Billboard Music Awards.

ABC and CBS aired nothing. Fox News had no story in the transcripts offered to Nexis for searching. Fox's corporate brethren at The Wall Street Journal had a story, but reporters Amy Schatz and Jess Bravin wrote a 727-word article with absolutely zero space for critics of the judges' decision (including the Brent Bozell-founded Parents Television Council).

The story did make explicit that Fox "led the case against the FCC and that "Fox is a division of News Corp., which also owns The Wall Street Journal."

Other newspapers offered small scraps for anti-profanity groups. The Washington Post's front-page story by Cecelia Kang offered 50 words out of 771, in paragraph eight:

The Parents Television Council called the decision a "slap in the face," and Concerned Women for America, an advocacy group for indecency rules, urged the agency to appeal, lest broadcast television be open to the sexually explicit content and language of cable programs such as "The Sopranos" and "True Blood."

The New York Times story by Edward Wyatt put the anti-profanity spokesman in the very last paragraph (of a 17-paragraph story), with just 75 words out of 940:

Ted Lempert, president of Children Now, said that while the court's decision was troubling, it also emphasized the need for clarity about broadcast standards. ''It's of concern because the F.C.C. has been a critical protector of children's interests when it comes to media,'' he said, adding that he expects that the commission will try to construct a more targeted approach to keeping indecency off the airwaves at times when children are likely to be watching.

National Public Radio reported the story on Tuesday night's All Things Considered by getting a rundown and analysis of the court case from legal reporter Nina Totenberg, but she offered zero reaction to the decision from anti-profanity groups. But on Tuesday's Morning Edition, NPR offered another story on FCC regulatory policy - on the proposed NBC-Comcast merger - and NPR found air time for several critics gainst the media companies on the antitrust front. (And Totenberg did a story in that program on the Supreme Court year in review, with former Totenberg intern Tom Goldstein insisting there are not really any liberals on the court.)

The networks are obviously terrible at covering themselves when they were brazen enough to go to court and argue that they should have the right to broadcast profanities of any kind at any time of the day. That is the effect of the 2nd Circuit's decision. At the very least, they ought to be willing to air critics of ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox (and CW, if anyone cares). Censoring the story and the dissenters is a cowardly act. Remember this the next time they bray about the "public's right to know."

-Tim Graham is Director of Media Analysis at the Media Research Center.